Official Web Site of Gretchen Christopher, BMI Million Airs Songwriter, Solo Artist, Dancer/Choreographer and The Fleetwoods' Founder

FLEETWOODS
HOME

11 HIT SINGLES

ALBUMS
LP, CAS, CD

STAGE
PERFORMANCES

SCREEN
PERFORMANCES

FLEETWOODS
TODAY

CD REVIEWS

PHOTOS

SUITE 16 CD

HEAR INTERVIEWS

CONTACT US / LINKS

TRIBUTES

GRETCHEN'S BIO
HOME

BLOG, 2010, 2009, 2008
 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004

MERCHANDISE
SOUND CLIPS

FLEETWOODS SPOTLIGHT
GRETCHEN

AWARDS &
DISTINCTIONS

Register as a friend of Gretchen Christopher at
 http://www.myspace.com/gretchenchristopher

Register as a friend of The Fleetwoods at
 http://www.myspace.com/thefleetwoods

CD Reviews
Gretchen's Sweet Sixteen (Suite 16)
Artist: Gretchen Christopher        Label: Gold Cup Music (GCM-CD 1601)
among 2007 Billboard Critics' Picks:
10 BEST ALBUMS of the year!
(Click on each title to read the full review.)

Top CD review from  musicnewsnashville.com

A real treasure for your audience

A masterful performance

Well done, Gretchen! This one is a real winner. (Scotland)

 

I PREFER THE NEW ONES

 

If that's you, it's incredible.

What a surprise!

"GLOWING REVIEWS FROM THE MEDIA"

"I'm happy to be part of such a great celebration."

What a beautifully executed project!

Billboard Critics' Picks include Gretchen's (SUITE 16) among 10 BEST ALBUMS

GRETCHEN GETS AIRPLAY FROM ENGLAND!

"Amazing You"

"Career highlight"

"Truly a work from your heart"

"What a great CD"

"The new CD-WOW!"

"well worth the wait!"

"SPECTACULAR"

"A FLEETWOOD STEERS HER OWN CAREER TOWARDS SOLO SUCCESS"

"SUITE 16:  "Blues Go Away" .... could be a "standard", right from the first listen."

Musical Memoirs of the British Vice Consul in DÜsseldorf

News
(Click on each title to read the full review.)

Northwest Jazz Profile Magazine interview
By a second generation Fleetwoods fan, sweet 16, this year!
My thanks to a special friend.
Celebrity Interview series with Kelly Watts
Simple Security

HERITAGE MUSIC REVIEW PART 1
HERITAGE MUSIC REVIEW PART 2

Submit a review of CDs, Calendar, Web Site, Etc. to gretchen@TheFleetwoods.com

Top CD review from  musicnewsnashville.com
By Chuck Dauphin

Gretchen Christopher has led an amazing life and an amazing career.  As part of the group the Fleetwoods, she recorded songs like “Come Softly To Me” and “Mr.  Blue.” It has been a while since she has recorded a project, but this one was definitely worth the wait.

The album, which serves as a musical autobiography of sorts, gives one a look into her dynamic story and life.  From being a part of musical history to reuniting with her first love, it’s all here…in sixteen chapters!

Musically, what works the best here includes the dramatic “Autumn Gold,” on which she gives a stunning vocal.  Also impressive is the wistful and expressive “Before You Go.” Many of the songs on the project have a sparse arrangement, allowing for the voice of Gretchen Christopher to be the main focus, and on each track….her vocal shines a little brighter with each listen.

There are also a few songs, such as “Everything I Wanna Be” and “What Good Is Pride,” that could work well as show tunes.  She handles them well.  Maybe the most meaningful track is the inspirational “Gotta Take That Ride,” which is all about taking risks.  It might mean going out on a limb, but sometimes (with this album being an example!) they are worth it!

For more about Gretchen or to buy this CD, visit http://www.thefleetwoods.com/gretchensbio.html

 

(c) 2005-2010 MNN Enterprises, LLC.      Music News Nashville is designed, owned

and published by Dan Harr.      All rights reserved.
 

Note: To see the original review please visit   http://www.musicnewsnashville.com/

Also visit our Interviews page for an interview of Gretchen Christopher by Chuck Dauphin

 

Return to top of page

A real treasure for your audience

On September 10, 2008 Craig Marshall Smith wrote:

Gretchen:
 
Life sometimes provides us with unanticipated golden opportunities and moments of grace, and Gretchen's Sweet
Sixteen has been one of those for you, and a real treasure for your audience and for those of us who remember with great fondness your past performances with the Fleetwoods.
 
This CD is a by-product of passion, heart, and joy - and those qualities are felt by the listener. We can go back in time with rejuvenated versions of familiar songs, and be uplifted by the thoughts expressed in your brand new songs.
 
The story of your life is very moving - and the photographs that accompany the CD are not only great to see but some
of them are quite surprising.

We've waited, waited so long - and it was worth it!

Congratulations!

Craig Marshall Smith
Highlands Ranch, CO
 

Return to top of page

A masterful performance

On September 8, 2008 Bob Bayrer wrote:

I have been remiss in writing to you.  When I received the CD I closed my eyes and listened to it start to finish, not once but three times.  A masterful performance, much applause and a standing ovation here in Florida.

I also wish to thank you for the very enjoyable conversation we had.

Thanks again for everything throughout the years, Bob

Bob Bayrer

Return to top of page

Well done, Gretchen! This one is a real winner. (Scotland)

On July 8, 2008, Andrew & Janet Gray in Edinburgh, Scotland wrote:

Dear Gretchen,
 
I wanted to let you know how much your latest album appealed to me. It's a rare event for me when I find emotions being stirred and images conjured up in my mind's eye by a new album. I thought all that was in my past and no longer happened. All this is achieved through the medium of your wonderful voice! I like the fact that it is very much your voice, without too intrusive a musical arrangement. The overall effect is one of a gentle melodiousness. A hint, perhaps of melancholy - but Carol King had that in 'Tapestry' - and it too was a great album! And there too was that golden timbre and the soft piano accompaniment. It makes me think of drifting gently downstream on an autumn afternoon, past the spires of Oxford. It has a timelessness that makes me think of Rupert Brooke's,
 
'Stands the Church clock still at three?
And is there honey still for tea?'

It has resonances which will only become richer with each listening, establishing it as a life-long favourite.

Well done, Gretchen! This one is a real winner.

Love from all,

Andrew & Janet

May, George & Katie Gray  in Edinburgh, Scotland
 

Return to top of page

I prefer the new ones

On May 16, 2008, at 12:00 PM, Danny Walchle wrote:

Gretchen -

My wife bought me your "Suite 16" CD for my birthday.
When I listened to parts online before, I told you the
remakes sounded good but different.  After playing it
in the car on the way to work for a few days I prefer
the new ones.

Amanda - the daughter who wanted to use "Graduation's
Here" for the senior song when she graduated last year
- loves the way you slowed down the end of the song.

Thanks for autographing it and I look forward to your
next release.

Best wishes for many years of happiness together for
you and Vos.

Danny Walchle
 

Return to top of page

While Christopher's professional life has been well documented elsewhere,
this album reveals a parallel inner life of fame and fortune, disillusionment,
self-discovery, fulfillment, and lost love regained that could easily be turned
into one of the most inspiring romantic dramas in cinematic history.

 
Doug Bright 
Victory Review
(For the complete review, click here.) 
 

Return to top of page

 
If that's you, it's incredible.

On Mar 12, 2008, at 8:39 AM, RonnieOldiesGuy@aol.com  wrote:
 
Dear Gretchen,
 
Is that really you doing all three voices on Track 10 ("Come Softly to Me") including the "male" voice?
 
If that's you, it's incredible.
 
If that's the case, I will scrap my original idea of playing a medley of other versions of "CSTM" instead play several seconds (maybe up to a minute) of Track 10 to open the show and tell people "it's not what you think!"
 
If that's really you, then you sure had me fooled!
 
I've been enjoying listening to the interviews you have posted. They are really good.
 
Ronnie
 

Return to top of page

What a surprise!

On Mar 6, 2008, at 1:43 PM, Joel Whitburn of RECORD RESEARCH wrote:


Hello Gretchen,
 
What a surprise! Thanks very much for sending me your CD album. Im so pleased to see that you're still performing, recording and carrying-on The Fleetwoods name. No question that The Fleetwoods were one of my all-time favorite vocal groups in that important early rock n roll era from 1959 to 1963. Your trio ruled the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1959 with two great classic #1 songs, Come Softly To Me and Mr. Blue.
 
Loved your new Sweet Sixteen album. Your vocals are pure and wonderful throughout the 16 tracks.
Let me know if and when you ever perform in Milwaukee. I'd love to see your show.
 
Joel Whitburn
 
PS 
I’ve always loved songs about the seasons, and, if I had to pick a favorite it would be “Autumn Gold”.
 

Return to top of page

"Glowing reviews from the media"

On Feb 25, 2008, in his nationally syndicated column  (Ask "Mr. Music"), Jerry Osborne wrote:

Gretchen's masterpiece, “Sweet Sixteen (Suite 16)” (Gold Cup 1601), came out a few months ago, and received glowing reviews from the media.
 
Among its accolades is being named a Billboard Critics Pick as one of the 10 Best Albums of 2007.
 
Unlike most concept albums, Christopher's “Sweet Sixteen (Suite 16)” is a completely truthful soundtrack of her life (including the Fleetwoods experience) and, more importantly, her first love (inexplicably, someone other than this journalist).
 
Gretchen wrote and arranged all of the music to tell the story as it happened. She also created an insert booklet, with fascinating text and photos, all of which enhances the listening experience.
 
Music historians should now find it easier to define a concept album, as “Sweet Sixteen (Suite 16)” is the model of the genre.
 
It is fitting we talk about Gretchen's album this week, since February 29th is her 17th birthday. For another 11-plus years, this leap year baby will still be a teenager.
 
Happy birthday Soft One! 

http://www.jerryosborne.com/2-25-08.htm
 

Return to top of page

"I'm happy to be part of such a great celebration".

On Jan 29, 2008, at 4:59 PM, Jim Levinson wrote:

Hi, Gretchen,

It's true that I "waited, waited so long," but yes, it was well worth it!  I love the album, and I'm happy to be part of such a great celebration.

Thanks also for the autographed photo, which is wonderful.

Now you're 16 going on 17.  My best wishes for your 17th birthday.  Hope it will be another glorious day in your life!

Jim Levinson

 

Return to top of page

"What a beautifully executed project!"

On Jan 6, 2008 1:46 AM Del Halterman wrote:

Dear Gretchen,
Finally we are home from spending the holidays with our families in Calgary, some 500 miles away. Upon our return, we found your CD had arrived, and before long we had some time to listen while reading your fascinating booklet. What a beautifully executed project! And to think we may not have enjoyed it were it not for Josie's thoughtfulness and your commitment to fulfilling her request.
Thank you so much. It is an as amazing as it is interesting.

 

Our best regards,

 

Del & Emi Halterman

 

PS: Walk-Don't Run - The Story of The Ventures by Del Halterman is now available from Lulu Publishing at http://www.lulu.com/content/725111

The book is also on The Ventures website, http://www.theventures.com/ although that merely links to the above source.

 
[Gretchen's Note:
Author Del Halterman's book was released March 10, 2008, the day The Ventures were inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. See our 3/10 BLOG and editor's note below.]
 

 

Click to enlarge editors note

          Click photo to enlarge


Return to top of page

Billboard Critics' Picks include Gretchen's (SUITE 16) among 10 BEST ALBUMS of 2007

On Dec 20, 2007,  from information appearing on Billboard.com

Billboard.com Chart Beat columnist (and author of The Billboard Book of #1 Hits, which includes Christopher's first song "Come Softly To Me"), Fred Bronson picks Gretchen Christopher, "Sweet Sixteen (Suite 16)" (Gold Cup) among 10 BEST ALBUMS and writes, "The former Fleetwoods singer, born Feb. 29, celebrates her '16th birthday' by turning her life into a stunning suite of 16 songs."
 

Return to top of page

GRETCHEN GETS AIRPLAY FROM ENGLAND!  Look for it to be aired on The Cruisin' Show,  www.rockitradio.net
 
On Oct 7, 2007, at 3:25 AM, Cruisinshow@aol.com wrote:  

 
Rock-it Radio -- 1950s Rock & Roll Online

Of course you're welcome to quote me, Gretchen ;)
 
I was quite serious, your voice is fantastic - better than ever!!  I hope the listeners appreciate it just as much,
but I'm sure they will!
 
Take care & keep singing those great songs!
 
Johnny xx
 
PS: I've attached the playlist to my next show

JOHNNY G – CRUISIN’ SHOW 129 – OCT. 2007

Another eclectic mix of classics & rarities plus something brand new from The Fleetwoods' Gretchen Christopher. Her voice is even better than ever!!  Gretchen and I chose one song each from her new CD. I'm sure you'll love both of them!  Check her out at her website!  www.GretchenChristopher.com

 

1. Without a Love - Johnny Isle (1959)
2. Mean Woman Blues - Jerry Lee Lewis (1957)
3. Sweet & Easy to Love - Roy Orbison (1957)
4. Take a Little Chance - Jimmy De Berry (19??)
5. Gimme Some Lovin' - Harold Jenkins (Conway Twitty) (1956)
6. Rockin' In Baghdad - Jerry Reed (1957)
7. Hong Kong Jelly Wong - The Royaltones (1956)
8. Sweet Sixteen - Gretchen Christopher (2007)
9. You Been Torturing Me - The Four Young Men ( 1960)
10. Looking For You - The Dukes (1959)
11. So Tired - Russ Morgan (1949)
12. Please Please Me - The Beatles (1963)
13. Wake Up Little Susie - The King Brothers (1957)
14. Blue Jean Bop - Gene Vincent (1956)
15. Hurricane - Joe Maphis & Larry Collins (1957)
16. Whistle Bait - Larry Collins (1958)
17. Snatch It & Grab It - Freddie Hart (1956)
18. William Tell Overture - Glen Campbell (1971)
19. Devil Gate Drive - Suzi Quatro (1974)
20. Schoolboy Crush - Cliff Richard & the Shadows (19??)
21. Dearest One - Fashions (1961)
22. That'll Get It - Larry Brinkley (19??)
23. Blue Suede Shoes - Elvis Presley (1956)
24. Ain't It Funny How Time Slips Away - Joe Hinton (1964)
25. Autumn Gold - Gretchen Christopher (2007)

 

Return to top of page

"Career highlight"

On Oct 17, 2007 (22:05:03), Matt The Cat wrote:
URL: http://mattthecat.com

Gretchen, Interviewing you on 10/10 was a career highlight for me.  Thanks so much for coming on my show and introducing America to your new songs alongside your classic favorites.  You are one of a kind.  Never stop singing.
Soulfully, Matt The Cat The Night Prowl Show
XM Satellite Radio 50s on 5

Return to top of page

"Truly a work from your heart"
 
Dear Gretchen! 
 
We received the CD and LOVE it so much!  My dearest friend Joanie wants a copy of her own so we'll be making another order!!
 
We've listened to it together 4 times already!!  I Will be doing promos for you in new up-coming "Doo Wop Diner"  shows on "Rock-it Radio". 
 
GREAT work Gretchen!!!  Truly a work from your heart- and the sound-track of our lives among those of us who loved you and "The Fleetwoods".  As a "concept album" Its the music and romance of our younger years!!!
 
                                                       -  Butchie Olmstead & Joanie Johnson

 
C.W. Butchie Olmstead
ephone6@mindspring.com
 
Visit Butchies site:
 http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=122170022

 
Tune in to Butchie's show at:
www.rockitradio.net
 

Click on photo to enlarge

Joanie, me and our
'49 Merc "Lil' Sugar"

Return to top of page

"What a great CD" 

On October 7, 2007 Fred Hemeon wrote:

What a great CD I've listened to Sweet sixteen 4 times now and I like it more each time.  Gretchen your voice is still wonderful!!  While I liked most of the tracks, I was stunned by Autumn Gold.  It has become a song I play over and over.  It has special meaning to me because my wife and I loved the autumn, as it is particularly beautiful in upstate New York where we live.  We did take many, many autumn trips to Vermont, New York and Mass.  My wife Kay passed away August 5th 2007, so this song while making me cry also brought back loving memories, which last forever.  Thanks Gretchen for the beautiful music, I just love the CD.
All the best, Fred

 

Return to top of page

"The new CD-WOW!"  

On October 6, 2007 Roger Melin wrote:

The new CD - WOW!  Got it, listened to it over and over already, and love it!  The remakes are better than could be expected, and the new stuff is remarkably pleasant to listen to.  THANK YOU for sharing your talents with us, Gretchen. Dizzy was right: "you sing like an angel" and you always have.  Yet not just the voice, but the talent behind it all.  The production work is exquisite, arrangements magnificent, and the orchestration is true to the concept of the album.  And each time I listen to the entire CD, my blues go away.
Thank you. Roger Melin
 

Return to top of page

"well worth the wait!"

On October 5, 2007 Mike Slater wrote:

Hi Gretchen-- I just received the package from you containing your new CD, and I absolutely love it!  It was well worth the wait!  Thank you so much for remembering me!  I loved what you wrote on it too, and I really appreciate it!  I just listened to the entire CD and read the booklet as well.  Your story is quite interesting and it was so nice to hear about your first love re-entering your life after 40 years...not everyone can say that!  As for the songs, they are really great!  Like you said in your story, these songs would fit very well in a Broadway play... especially the up-tempo ones, which I thought sounded a lot like show tunes.  I also enjoyed the new recordings of "Come Softly To Me" and "Graduation's Here"...they're really great!  Your new songs have a contemporary sound, and yet you still have that soft style and sound that made the Fleetwoods recordings so beautiful and enjoyable.  A lot of these would have been perfect material for the group back in the '60's!  Your voice still sounds just as beautiful as it did back then, and you're still as attractive as ever!  I know how long and hard you worked on these songs, but I hope they're not your last.  I can't thank you enough for sending me the CD and for all the wonderful music that you, Barbara and Gary have given us through the years.  Whenever I go out, I always have to have a Fleetwoods CD with me to listen to in the car...and now, your new one will be traveling with me too!  I hope you are well and I wish you all the best. Here's hoping you will keep giving us your beautiful music and voice!---
Sincerely, Mike Slater
 

Return to top of page

"SPECTACULAR"

On October 1, 2007 Amanda wrote:

We got the Sweet Sixteen CD today, and we listened to it all the way through, nonstop.  It's a beautiful CD, the songs are SPECTACULAR.  I can't even choose favorites yet!!  I can't wait until I get it burned onto my Minidisk Player, then I can listen to it more and more.  We are very happy with the CD, thank you so much.  I love it, my dad loves it, and I bet my mother will love it too. =)    
16-year-old Amanda
 

Return to top of page

"Amazing You"

On July 10, 2006 Barbara Ellis wrote:

Subject: amazing you

She worked on this project I should imagine, with both love and hate for all the hours, weeks, months and years given.  There are some tunes written while we were Fleetwoods together.  My favorite, "Blues Go Away".  She was so young to know such heartbreak yet it all came from her soul.

"Before You Go", another favorite along with "Autumn Gold".  With lyrics and melody so touching.  These were written later on in her career, and showing the same haunting soulful feelings.

I have not heard all the tunes on this CD, but knowing Gretchen they will be her blood, sweat, tears and soul.  She always gives her best to us.

I wish you the best my dear old friend, and hope your fans and newcomers to your music sit back and enjoy.

Always, All ways, Barbara

Return to top of page

SUITE 16:  "Blues Go Away" .... could be a "standard", right from the first listen. 

On Jun 12, 2007, at 2:00 AM, Wayne Stierle wrote:
 
Gretchen Christopher, founder of the hit making trio, The Fleetwoods, has always been active and making new music.  (The Fleetwoods were among only a few groups to remain totally intact from the fifties into the mid-sixties).
 
Here is an interesting CD that defies a territory as it crosses into several musical areas.  Gretchen reprises her own "Graduation's Here" in a surprisingly upbeat and convincing recording, as well as her best known composition, "Come Softly To Me", in two arrangements which would interest any fan of The Fleetwoods.  "Sweet Sixteen" is a personal journey song that has a good story going for it, and even tips its' hat to "Mr. Blue" and "Come Softly To Me".  "Autumn Gold" and "Before You Go" are as melancholy as the titles suggest, with Gretchen bringing her own lyrics to life, while "Everything Good In My Life" is an anthem to positive thinking and living.
 
For myself, "Blues Go Away" is a song that suggests it could be a "standard", right from the first listen.  Gretchen has written and created a jazz/blues ballad that would sound at home on an easy-jazz station in the wee wee hours of the morning.  As a song writer and vocalist, Gretchen brings a Peggy Lee aura to this fine recording of her own inspired composition.
 
All in all, this is a CD with something for everybody, in a generous 16 tracks from a true rock n' roll survivor.
 
Wayne Stierle
Candlelite Music

 

Return to top of page

GRETCHEN CHRISTOPHER 
OF THE FLEETWOODS FAME and BMI MILLION AIRS SONGWRITER
CD REVIEW BY  KK RYDER

 

"A FLEETWOOD STEERS HER OWN CAREER TOWARDS SOLO SUCCESS"

 

 

Gretchen Christopher has captured, on Gretchen's SWEET SIXTEEN! (SUITE 16), a birthday present, not only to herself and long waiting fans, but also to the very FIRST love of her life, Vos!

 

The CD helps one to envision sitting in a Broadway play or at a ballet with a story unfolding before their eyes - of, well, her life!

  

It's like a fairy tale... for her to now be with her very FIRST love, after years apart and a series of emotional roller coasters, including triumphant victories with her career as a songwriter and as one of the beautiful songbirds of THE FLEETWOODS.

  

Gretchen Christopher regally captures her soul on not vinyl, this time around, but on CD. She shares with the listener hit songs of her FLEETWOOD cruising days, "Graduation's Here" and two versions of "Come Softly To Me"; one is performed live beautifully a cappella and the other has a nostalgic quality revisited in this studio arrangement.  
 
"The Hardest Promise I'll Keep" is an anticipation song about when your heart knows that you have to let a love go…but knowing deep down, if the love is a forever love, that it will come back.  
 
On "What Good Is Pride When You're Dyin' Inside", a fun reggae feel mixed with a cool 50's guitar makes an appealing interesting combination. 
 
"Blues Go Away", Gretchen's voice has a great bluesy Etta James/Norah Jones quality to it!  
 
The songs she has written and chosen tell the story of her life. They are songs that are relatable and heartfelt. I could even see someone like Norah Jones covering one or two of Gretchen's songs.

 

Gretchen has a very unique voice, she has the same beautiful songbird qualities of her FLEETWOOD days, but she also delivers a fresh jazzy, bluesy, theatrical feel which will pick up the listener and take them along on a journey as they follow Gretchen softly winding through the colors and emotions of her life, which could help this CD roll right off the shelves and help steer Gretchen Christopher into the hearts of her long waiting fans as well as new listeners!

Musical Memoirs of the British Vice Consul in Dϋsseldorf.

On October 29. 2007 David Kelly wrote:

MUSICAL MEMOIRS OF A FLEETWOODS FAN IN IRELAND
WHO GREW UP TO BE
THE BRITISH VICE CONSUL IN DÜSSELDORF
 
BOYHOOD:
 
By the time spring of 1959 arrived, I had already learned to appreciate good harmony singing (and had even begun to understand a little of its construction by singing in the school choir). Then the Fleetwoods, Gretchen Christopher, Barbara Ellis and Gary Troxel entered my life. I first heard the Fleetwoods on Radio Luxembourg, the only station that beamed popular music on a regular basis to Britain at that time. Reception was always patchy, but we didn't have much alternative. (The only other place to hear real music was AFN, US Forces Radio out of Frankfurt, which could sometimes be picked up after dark. ) I was stopped in my tracks when they played "Come Softly To Me". There was a warmer and more gentle cadence to it than other harmony music and Gary's scat singing, the idea for which he later claimed came from a Dell Vikings record, was totally infectious and a perfect counterpoint to the girls' haunting harmonies. I knew nothing about the Fleetwoods and  had never even seen a photo of them.  A classmate said, "oh, they're from Washington, you know," and  that was the first bit of background I acquired. "Come Softly To Me", already at No 1 in USA, became a big hit in England a month or so later, peaking at no. 8, a powerful achievement for a first release.
 

Later that year there followed two more hits, "Graduation's Here" and  "Mr. Blue". The latter , written by Dewayne Blackwell (who later penned "Ferris Wheel" for the Everly Brothers), deservedly went to No 1 in USA. I was gradually discovering more about The Fleetwoods. They did indeed come from Washington, although not D.C. as I had first supposed, but Olympia in Washington State in the Pacific Northwest, about as far as you could get from D.C.  

The line up of two females and one male was unusual. I was only aware of one other group using this format, Jim Ed Brown and his sisters Maxine and Bonnie, with whom the Fleetwoods would later tour. What set the Fleetwoods apart from all the the rest, however, was the subtle three part harmonies and the sparse, understated musical accompaniment. Each of the trio could sing the  melody part and then they could all slip into the harmony part together, sometimes within the same song. Perfect. You couldn't pigeon hole them but their voices, especially Gretchen's, had a certain jazz feel.
 

ADULTHOOD:
 

The years went by and I began to travel around the world with my work. Gretchen, Barbara and Gary continued to make superb music.  They were in and out of the charts but always remained in heart and living room. After they left Dolton Records in late 1965 I didn't hear much news for a while. What a great thrill it was, therefore, when in 1974 I watched Steven Spielberg's film "American Graffiti" at the US Embassy in Delhi India and heard, among lots of other magnificent music, my idols singing "The Great Impostor", always  one of my favourites. I went to the movie for five consecutive nights and even now I watch  the DVD about once a month.

But by this time Gretchen, Barbara and Gary had gone their separate ways and news was very rare. I remember having a work-related meeting with a man from Olympia during this period and, quickly disposing of the business aspects, steered the conversation in the direction of my  heroes. Of course he had heard of them but he couldn't give me any information as to their current activities and suggested I write to newspapers in the area, which I did but to no avail.

The highlight of the 1980s was Gretchen's gorgeous version of "Imagination" on the Buried Treasures album. Although I still did not get much news the Internet was just around the corner. I always remember that the first search I ever did on the net was "Fleetwoods". I eventually made contact with Gretchen who in the intervening years has patiently and graciously answered all my questions. Neither of us ever just takes her music for granted. My mails always conclude with "thank you for the music" and Gretchen invariably acknowledges it.

So where were we? Oh yes, early 2007 and the story continues. Gretchen is about to release her long awaited CD and is gaining a whole new generation of fans, including her own grandchildren and Ben, the first child of  my office colleague Jenny. He  only settles down to sleep each night after his mother has sung "Come Softly To Me" to him (which Jenny herself learned from her father and me).  If her next child is a daughter she intends to name her Gretchen. I cannot think of a nicer compliment. I wonder if in the 1950s those two Olympia schoolgirls could possibly have imagined that their singing together would have such a wide-reaching effect? Now there's an interesting question for Gretchen.

Thank you  for the music, Gretchen.

David Kelly
British Vice Consul
Düsseldorf

Return to top of page

News

Click photo to enlarge

Click photo to enlarge

Click photo to enlarge

Click photo to enlarge

Return to top of page

BY A SECOND GENERATION FLEETWOODS FAN, Sweet 16, this year!    (Feb 15, 2007)

I remember the first time that my father introduced me to the Fleetwood's; it was when 'The Great Imposter' played on the radio one day, and I had first heard it. My father told me about how he had listened to the Fleetwood's when he was younger and how he loved the vocals. Especially Gretchen's voice, and I must agree strongly with him. Gretchen's voice is soft and calming, but while being so tranquil, it resonates in the mind. I believe that one can never forget a voice like hers.

I have the Mr. Blue CD on this website and I love listening to it all the time. Especially when I need to just slow myself down and calm down. Its a shame that kids my age are not into this kind of music; you know, the music that you can hear the words to and they weave a story through the mind. One of my favorites on the Mr. Blue CD is, of course, Mr. Blue. It's such a beautiful, yet sad song, and it's one I listen to often. It brings so many images to my mind; you'd be surprised how many sketches I have made whilst listening to Mr. Blue, also The Great Imposter, Come Softly, and Come Go With Me. I simply cannot wait until Sweet Sixteen comes out!!

This website has been very fun to work on with my father. I do image-work on the computer, so I must credit Gretchen with me finding out how to make better, more professional-looking banners. She has pushed me to be more creative, to learn more about the program that I use, to try new things with it to give new effects. So I thank Gretchen highly for that influence in my life. She's been a large influence in my life, ever since my father mailed her asking her to call me on my birthday. Its been nearly a year since then; and I have learned from Gretchen that I can do anything if I try hard enough, to pursue my dreams. I thank her for that.

The Fleetwood's, especially Gretchen, will always be in my heart and in my MP3 player, playing full blast,

Amanda French
Sweet Sixteen 2007 (Pisces)
Feb 15, 2007

Return to top of page

My thanks to a SPECIAL friend  (Feb 15, 2007)

It is finally my turn to put down in my own words, my feelings and thoughts. As Webmaster for The Fleetwoods and Gretchen Christopher, I would like to thank Gretchen with all of my heart for the opportunity that she has given me to become part of her life. She has been a part of my life since 1959 when I first heard  "Come Softly To Me", and I could not wait for another record to come out from The Fleetwoods.

Now here it is 48 years later and I am working with the voice that has been a part of my life and inspiration. I still stop and turn the volume up on the radio whenever I hear Gretchen and The Fleetwoods come on. In the past year Gretchen has been a source of encouragement for me, to realize that I can do anything I want to do if I just keep at it.I did not know the first thing about web design or upkeep, but with the trust and encouragement of Gretchen, I havelearned how to do web design.

I received a calendar from Gretchen, and I am enjoying every page of it. The pictures are wonderful and make you feel as if you are there with her; it's so nice to be able to see photos that have previously been only a part of her early recording years but now you are a part of that. When Gretchen first shared with me the full version of  "Graduations Here" I also listened to the original version released in 1959, and I thought that if it had been recorded this new way, it also would have been another number 1 Gold Record. Thank You Gretchen for being a great friend and for the trust and confidence you have had in me.

Darrell French
Webmaster:
gretchenchristopher.com
thefleetwoods.com
Feb 15, 2007

Return to top of page

CELEBRITY INTERVIEW SERIES WITH KELLY WATTS  (Jan 12, 2007)

Dear Ms. Gretchen,
 

Bravo on the interview with Kelly Watts!   It was really a terrific show.  You sounded great, and he "enhanced the flavor" with wonderful interviewing techniques and I would say genuine admiration for you.  I hope the show had a good audience.
 
As to the songs played:  I finally got to hear Autumn Gold fully.  Hearing it reminded me of the Bob Dylan quote on Gordon Lightfoot songs:  When you hear a Gordon Lightfoot song, you wish it would never end.  When the part that is on the website came, I got the chills through me, and felt I was encountering a now familiar and beloved friend. Frankly, I wish you had some refrains of that segment, and more of all the song.  Graduation's Here was well done.  Blues Go Away was just so sexy and sultry - what more can I say?  You didn't need the "croakier" voice to make it sound so.  Again, the comparison to Ute Lemper (certainly not an insult) is justified.  Or should I say better, Ute Lemper will now sound reminiscent of Gretchen Christopher.  Kelly's suggestion of background strings was, I felt, a very thoughtful comment, especially considering your own response on the original version, and showed how attentive and appreciative he was of your work.  Sweet Sixteen did indeed suggest a show tune, as Kelly indicated - and that is a kind of compliment, too - what he was saying, in effect, was that it was a more sophisticated take on what you would have categorized as a mere bubble-gum song.  And I say amen to his description of your "pure voice."
 
Even more admiringly after the interview, Stephen
Jan 28, 2007

 

 

Return to top of page

 
SIMPLE SECURITY

On Aug 5, 2007, at 12:42 PM, Charlotte Frank wrote:

Put your car keys beside your bed at night. If you hear a noise outside your home or someone trying to get in your house, just press the panic button for your car. The alarm will be set off, and the horn will continue to sound until either you turn it off or the  car battery dies. This tip came from a neighborhood watch  coordinator. Next time you come home for the night and you start to put your keys away, think of this: It's a security alarm system that you probably already have and requires no installation. Test  it. It will go off from most everywhere inside your house and will  keep honking until your battery runs down or until you reset it  with the button on the key fob chain. It works if you park in your  driveway or garage. If your car alarm goes off when someone is  trying to break in your house, odds are the burglar or rapist won't  stick around... after a few seconds all the neighbors will be  looking out their windows to see who is out there and sure enough  the criminal won't want that. And remember to carry your keys while  walking to your car in a parking lot. The alarm can work the same  way there..... This is something that should really be shared with everyone.  Maybe it could save a life or a sexual abuse crime.

P.S. I am sending this to everyone I know because I think it is fantastic. Would also be useful for any emergency, such as a heart attack, where you can't reach a phone.

My Mom has suggested to my Dad that he carry his car keys with him  in case he falls outside and she doesn't hear him.  He can activate the car alarm and then she'll know there's a problem.

 
 

Return to top of page

 
HERITAGE MUSIC REVIEW     Part 1

On April 6, 2008, Doug Bright wrote:
 
 
APRIL, 2008
 
HERITAGE MUSIC REVIEW
ELECTRONIC EDITION: Now free to e-mail subscribers and supported by tasteful,
music-oriented advertising with a unique news-format approach.
A monthly guide to early rock, blues, country, folk, and traditional jazz in
the Seattle area and beyond.
Editor and Publisher: Doug Bright
E-mail: subscribe@heritagemusicreview.com.
 
CONTENTS--APRIL, 2008
PART ONE:
THE FLEETWOODS' GRETCHEN CHRISTOPHER CELEBRATES ONE MILESTONE WITH ANOTHER
WHAT'S IN STORE: NEWS FROM THE MUSICAL MARKETPLACE
CHECKIN, OUT THE SOUNDS: APRIL PERFORMANCE CALENDAR (next message)
----------------------------------------  PART ONE:
THE FLEETWOODS' GRETCHEN CHRISTOPHER CELEBRATES ONE MILESTONE WITH ANOTHER
 
By Doug Bright
 
     Early in 1959 the nation's pop record charts were invaded by a new vocal
group from Olympia, Washington, with a sound that was totally unique. They
called themselves The Fleetwoods, and their initial effort combined an
imaginative vocal blend and delicate, guitar-based  accompaniment on an
original tune called "Come Softly To Me". In less than a month it vaulted to
the top of the charts both locally and nationally, launching the trio's
hit-making career.  This year co-founder Gretchen Christopher, born February
29, 1940, celebrated her 17th leap-year birthday basking in the critical
acclaim generated by her recent, independently produced CD.  The project,
started four years ago in celebration of her previous leap-year birthday, is
cleverly titled GRETCHEN'S SWEET 16 (Suite 16) and was cited by Billboard
Magazine critic Fred Bronson as one of 2007's best albums.
 
     The Fleetwoods' story begins in the spring of 1958 when Gretchen
Christopher and Barbara Ellis, two seniors at Olympia High, decided to prepare
an act for a school talent show.  When they needed a trumpet player for an
arrangement of the old swing-era standard "Stormy Weather", they summoned Gary
Troxel, a senior who had just transferred in from another school that year.  As
it turned out, Troxel couldn't play the song in a key that suited the girls'
voices, but the encounter still proved historic.  "After school that day,"
Christopher told this publication in 1983, "Gary walked me downtown, where I
was supposed to meet my mother.  As he stood there waiting with me on the
corner, he started humming to himself, and I could tell that what he was
humming was based on the same chord progression as a song I'd been writing.  I
asked him to keep going but slow it down a little bit, and I put "Come Softly
To Me" against it in counterpoint.  It worked beautifully so I said, Let's do
it for Barb, and if she likes it as much as I do, we'll incorporate that into
the song and you into the group."
 
     Barb liked it, and the song was performed for the first time at the Senior
Class Talent Assembly.  "The students were absolutely silent all during the
song and for a moment afterward," Christopher recalled.  "Then they just went
wild!  For weeks they were coming up to us in the halls and asking, How does
that song go?"
 
          Successful as the school appearance was, it wasn't Gretchen
Christopher's first contact  with the performing arts.  Raised in a musical
family and having sung and danced since childhood, the 18-year-old high school
senior had already decided that show business would be her life's work, so one
day in February 1958 she made her first decisive step toward that goal.
 
     Arranging to take a day off from school, she caught a bus To Seattle with
the purpose of visiting the local television stations.  Her inquiries resulted
in an audition for a show on KING-TV called KING'S Camera.  "I auditioned
singing "Fools Rush In", which I think is quite significant," she remembered
with a laugh.  "I was only eighteen years old and had grown up all my life in
Olympia.  I made my way to this huge city alone.  It might as well have been
San Francisco or Los Angeles!"
 
     The KING's Camera viewing audience was just as impressed with
Christopher's performance as were the show's producers, and when the fan mail
started coming in, she was invited back for a second appearance.  On the advice
of a receptionist at the station, she auditioned at The Colony Club, a
nationally recognized Seattle nightspot owned and managed by jazz impresario
Norm Bobrow.  "I think it was a Thursday night," she recalled.  "He said that
Pat Suzuki, the club's songstress in residence, was sick.  He offered to pay
expenses for my mother and me if I could come and take over the first show the
next night.  The audience was so receptive that Norm asked me to stay and split
the second show with Pat.  Again I was so well received that he asked me to
stay and play the weekend.  He paid all our expenses plus $25 or something like
that.  I was a professional!"
 
     After such a triumphant debut, Gretchen Christopher found herself in a
very good position to capitalize on her success at the senior class talent
show.  "I've written a song with some classmates," she said to Norm Bobrow one
day.  "We did it at a class assembly and the kids want us to record it so they
can buy it.  What should I do?"
 
     "I'll introduce you to Pat Suzuki's record promoter," Bobrow promised.
 
     True to his word, Bobrow put her in touch with Bob Reisdorff, a promoter
at C.&C. Distributing.  "Bring me a tape recording," said Reisdorff, "and if I
think it's good I'll send it out to different record labels with a note of
recommendation.  If I don't think it's good, you can pay your own postage and
send it yourselves."
 
     An unaccompanied version of "Come Softly To Me" was promptly recorded at
Christopher's home in Olympia and just as promptly submitted to Reisdorff.
"It'll sell a million!" he concluded, and to prove his point he formed Dolphin
Records in partnership with C.&C. owner Lou Lavinthal.  For additional prestige
Bonnie Guitar, a local artist with national hit-making status, was brought into
the partnership as record producer.
 
     With these steps completed, only one minor adjustment was necessary.  When
Gretchen Christopher and her friends had formed their group, they had simply
billed themselves as Two Girls 'n' A Guy for lack of a better idea.  "You need
a name that really sounds catchy," Reisdorff told her one day on the phone,
"something like--Fleetwood!"  The sudden inspiration had come from the name of
Olympia's local telephone exchange.  The issue was settled.
 
     In the summer of 1958 the Fleetwoods started recording at Joe Boles'
basement studio in West Seattle.  It was the beginning of a slow, painstaking
process that finally resulted in a marketable product.  "In the studio Bob
decided that Gary's humming needed some lyrics, so Gary wrote his lyrics on the
spot, so to speak," Christopher recalled.  "One of the most wonderful things
about that record is the perfect balance between the male and female parts as
they weave in and out.  You could take away all the instruments and you'd still
have a complete thing.  In fact, we recorded it in Seattle without instruments.
Then Bonnie Guitar and Bob Reisdorff took the tape down to Hollywood and
overdubbed just guitar and bass.  Our only rhythm was Gary shaking car keys in
his hand.  It was a long creative process putting "Come Softly To Me" together,
and I really have to give Bob Reisdorff a lot of credit for that."
 
     The creative process continued through the summer and into the fall.  The
final session took place during Christopher's Thanksgiving vacation from
Whitman College.  Two songs were soon ready for release: "Come Softly To Me"
and another original called "I Care So Much".  With a quality product finally
in his hands, Bob Reisdorff prepared to launch a vigorous marketing campaign.
 
     Meanwhile, Gretchen Christopher was going through the most intense
soul-searching period of her life.  "I had always assumed I'd have a college
education," she explained.  "That was just part of our family way, but I had
gotten really discouraged in high school because they wouldn't let you advance
as quickly as you wanted.  My heart was totally in dancing and singing, but I
decided in August that if I didn't get my college education then, I probably
never would: it would be too hard to come back later.  I had to just let my
love of dancing and everything fall away.  It was like consciously not watering
a plant and watching it die, but it was something I felt I needed to do."
 
     "Come Softly To Me" was released shortly after the beginning of the new
year, and Christopher feared that its success would require the group to tour
nationally.  "I called Bob," she remembered, "and begged him not to take me out
of school because it had been so emotionally expensive to decide to go."
Reisdorff consented on condition that if the record hit nationally, Christopher
would leave immediately with no argument.  Considering herself fairly safe, she
agreed.
 
     Consequently, Gretchen Christopher was quite unprepared for what happened
next.  "When I came back to Whitman after my first semester," she recalled,
"the kids would tell me they heard the record and it was in the Top Ten.  The
higher it got on the charts, the more my heart sank.  I was just four days into
my second semester when Bob called and said it was hitting nationally."
 
      From that point on, things began to happen quickly.  A
three-and-a-half-week tour was arranged, beginning with an appearance on
KING-TV's Seattle Bandstand show late in February.  At every stop--Hollywood,
Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Boston and New York--the game plan
was the same.  "The main thing," Christopher explained, "was going to radio and
TV stations and occasionally doing a sock hop singing "Come Softly To Me" and
"I Care So Much": that's all we had.  I was in charge of the public relations
and promotion under Bob Reisdorff's direction.  He was in charge of setting up
the tours and taking us places, but he instructed me to keep a list of every
disc jockey we met and every station we visited.  Then I was to send them a
thank-you note afterward with an autographed picture.  I took all my
responsibilities very seriously."
 
     Despite the glamor of their national tour, the three teenagers would
hardly have described it as a joyride.  "If there was a party, it was a
promotion party," Gretchen Christopher pointed out.  "We were there to meet and
talk with disc jockeys: it was strictly business.  We had real standards for
the group.  We were not flashy at all, but we were always neat and clean.  We
never smoked or swore in public.  I felt that we had a very great influence on
teenagers--that they looked to us as an example."
 
     The Fleetwoods' success continued with two more classics.  Late in the
spring Reisdorff's label, renamed Dolton because of a trademark issue with the
Dolphin name, released "Graduation's Here", a song Gretchen Christopher and
Barbara Ellis had written a year earlier for their graduating class.  It was
followed in the summer with the unforgettable "Mr. Blue", which topped the
national record charts just as "Come Softly To Me" had done.  The Fleetwoods'
first album, MR. BLUE, was soon released, and included on it were both of their
million-selling hits.  By this time it was obvious to everyone in the industry
that the Fleetwoods were here to stay.
 
     Given such an impressive track record, other companies were casting an
envious glance at Bob Reisdorff and his new supergroup.  "Many labels wanted to
buy the Fleetwoods' contract," Gretchen Christopher recalled, "but of course,
Dolton wouldn't sell that.  Then Liberty offered to buy the whole label.  Part
of the deal was that Bob would remain in control of Dolton as president for
five years.  It was a really good deal for Bob so that's the deal he went for,
but we felt like we'd been auctioned off the block.  We were the product but
there was no benefit to us for being sold.  We were very aware of that, and we
thought this was what slavery must be like."
 
     With the sale completed in late 1960, Dolton Records moved to Hollywood.
"I flew down there for a recording session the next February and celebrated my
twenty-first birthday there," Christopher recalled.  "After that, Barb and I
decided to live down there.  Gary went into the Navy, but he would come back to
record.  We'd get together for three weeks at a time and work day and night on
material."
 
     The Fleetwoods continued to record for five more years.  Album sales were
quite steady, but the group's success in the single-record market went into a
slow decline.  "Liberty Records considered us so strong that they didn't need
to promote us," Gretchen Christoper explained.  "They were so sure our records
would be hits that they put their promotion efforts into weaker artists.  On
"The Great Imposter" (1962), they were so sure that it was going to be Number
One that they didn't co-ordinate the promotion effort.  They were right in that
it did go to Number One everywhere, but it went to Number One at all different
times.  You have to have it going to Number One at the same time in every
market in order for it to show that way nationally, so instead the record spent
many weeks at mid-chart.  Bob Reisdorff confided to me that the five years when
he was president were a very, very frustrating period.  He had to fight for
everything he got for Dolton: it got last priority."
 
     Frustrating as they were, Liberty's promotional policies were only part of
the problem.  The rest of the trouble lay in an artistic disagreement
developing between performers and producers.  "Gary and I have a lot of jazz in
our blood, so to speak," Christopher explained, "and we had a tendency to do
more sophisticated things, but Bob would say no.  They'd bring us demo tapes
that were sort of like parodies of the Fleetwoods sound.  If we were sugar,
they were saccharine!  There was some of that stuff that I just didn't want to
do: it wasn't sincere."
 
     Even when presented with material that they could sing enthusiastically,
the Fleetwoods sometimes found their efforts frustrated in the studio.  "On
"Lovers By Night, Strangers By Day"," Christopher remembered, "Barb and I sang
our hearts out, but then in the mastering they dialed us way back in the
background.  I was just sick when I heard it!  We had put heart and soul into
that song, and to have them dial it back like that was heartbreaking."
 
     Looking back on those years of insensitive, shortsighted management,
Gretchen Christopher feels that the successes and failures of the Fleetwoods'
heyday offer dramatic proof that the artist is usually right.  "The successful
things were all things I loved," she reflected.  "The things that were not
successful were things that were done against my better judgment.  We kept on
recording right up until February of 1966 when our contract expired.  We were
just waiting for that so that we could say no thanks."
 
----------------------------------------
 
     (Note: This article will be continued in the next issue of HERITAGE MUSIC
REVIEW.  Gretchen Christopher's recent album, GRETCHEN'S SWEET 16 (Suite 16,
can be sampled and purchased at her website, www.gretchenchristopher.com.)
----------------------------------------
 
                  Build Your Fleetwoods Collection On Bop Street
     If this month's article has inspired you to build up your Fleetwoods
collection, Bop Street Records in Seattle's Ballard district is the place to
go.  According to proprietor Dave Vorhies, the store now has an impressive
stock of original Dolton albums from the group's heyday as well as a few 45RPM
singles.
 
Bop Street Records
5219 Ballard Avenue Northwest.
Phone: (206) 297-2232.
E-mail: dave_vorhees@yahoo.com.
 
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
                    ON THE NEWSSTAND: HERITAGE MUSIC REVIEW
     The print edition of HERITAGE MUSIC REVIEW is available by mail for $15
per year and on sale at the following Seattle newsstands and music venues:
 
DOWNTOWN:
Read-all-about-it: First and Pike, Pike Place Market.
 
FREMONT:
American Music  4450 Fremont Avenue North.
Dusty Strings Music: 3406 Fremont Avenue North.
Market Time Foods: 4416 Fremont Avenue North
 
PIONEER SQUARE:
New Orleans Creole Restaurant: 114 First Avenue South.
Elliott Bay Book Company: 101 South Main Street.
Emerald City Guitars: 83 South Washington Street.
 
    For a free sample copy of the print edition, just reply to this message or,
if this issue was forwarded to you,  send your mailing address to
subscribe@heritagemusicreview.com.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
    Forwarding of this Electronic Edition is strongly encouraged. If you wish
to subscribe or unsubscribe, simply send your request to editor Doug Bright:
subscribe@heritagemusicreview.com.
----------------------------------------

Return to top of page

 
HERITAGE MUSIC REVIEW     Part 2

On May 8, 2008, Doug Bright wrote:

 
MAY, 2008
 
HERITAGE MUSIC REVIEW
ELECTRONIC EDITION: Now free to e-mail subscribers and supported by tasteful,
music-oriented advertising with a unique news-format approach.
A monthly guide to early rock, blues, country, folk, and traditional jazz in
the Seattle area and beyond.
Editor and Publisher: Doug Bright
E-mail: subscribe@heritagemusicreview.com.
 
CONTENTS--MAY, 2008
PART TWO:
THE FLEETWOODS' GRETCHEN CHRISTOPHER CELEBRATES ONE MILESTONE WITH ANOTHER

----------------------------------------  PART TWO:
 
THE FLEETWOODS' GRETCHEN CHRISTOPHER CELEBRATES ONE MILESTONE WITH ANOTHER
 
By Doug Bright
 
     Early in 1959 the nation's pop record charts were invaded by a new singing
group from Olympia, Washington, with a sound that was totally unique. They
called themselves The Fleetwoods, and their initial effort combined an
imaginative vocal blend and delicate, guitar-based  accompaniment on an
original song called "Come Softly To Me". In less than a month it vaulted to
the top of the charts both locally and nationally, launching the trio's
hit-making career.  This year co-founder Gretchen Christopher, born February
29, 1940, celebrated her 17th leap-year birthday basking in the critical
acclaim generated by her recent, independently produced CD.  The project,
started four years ago in celebration of her previous leap-year birthday, is
cleverly titled GRETCHEN'S SWEET 16 (Suite 16) and was cited by Billboard
Magazine critic Fred Bronson as one of 2007's best albums.
 
     While Christopher's professional life has been well documented elsewhere,
this album reveals a parallel inner life of fame and fortune, disillusionment,
self-discovery, fulfillment, and lost love regained that could easily be turned
into one of the most inspiring romantic dramas in cinematic history.  "The
songs are sequenced to tell our story," she explains in her liner notes.  "And,
though what's most important is how each song relates to you, I envision it as
a Broadway show or movie musical . . . the soundtrack of our lives."
 
     "Suite 16" opens with the beautifully wistful "Autumn Gold", which
Gretchen Christopher dedicates "to those we've loved and lost--or perhaps only
lost track of."  Then the chronology begins with an unaccompanied version of
"Come Softly" intended to simulate the song's first performance in 1958 at
Olympia High School's Senior Class Talent Show.  "I've arranged it in
counterpoint to include Gary Troxel singing his scat line as our back-up," she
recalls [of the original performance].  "Barbara Ellis harmonizes to my lead, following the dynamics and
blending perfectly.  We perform without accompaniment before 1,500 students and
teachers.  They listen in rapt attention.  We end, and in a moment of dramatic
inspiration, I lean into the microphone and breathe, "Come!"  Silence.  I
wonder if something is wrong.  Then the crowd goes wild;  they love the song!
As we run offstage, Barbara says, "Gretchen, you can't say that!"  "Why not?" I
ask.  What she whispers, I don't believe!"
 
     "Two weeks later," Christopher continues, "we sing "Come Softly" again, at
the teen dance at the Community Center.  Kids flock to us and ask me, "Why
don't you record it, so we can buy it?"  I record us on Dad's reel-to-reel tape
deck and take the tape to Seattle record promoter Bob Reisdorff.  He says,
"It'll sell a million!" and starts his own label, Dolphin Records, to record us
professionally as soon as we graduate."
 
     Gretchen Christopher's parallel story actually begins almost two years
earlier with a young man named Richard Vosburgh.  "The summer before my junior
year," she explains, "I'd met Vos (Richard The First) when I was 16 and he was
18.  Within six months we'd fallen in love, each for the very first time."
 
     Christopher devotes several songs to this happily turbulent period of her
life: the Baroque-flavored "Time of Love", the exuberant jazz-inflected waltz
"Everything I Wanna Be", and the reflective ballads "Before You Go", "The
Hardest Promise I'll Keep", and "Gotta Take That Ride".  " 'Before You Go' off
to college, dear Vos," she explains in summation of the song's intent, "know
how deeply I care.  But do go;  learn;  grow;  and I will soon embark on my own
journey.  'The Hardest Promise I'll Keep' is to say goodbye to my first love;
for good.  I've 'Gotta Take That Ride'--pursue my dream, a career in performing
arts."
 
     "First stop of the magic carpet ride: Seattle, where I've already made my
professional debut dancing and singing on television," Christopher continues.
"The day after graduation, Barbara, Gary and I begin recording "'Come Softly'".
Bob Reisdorff eventually suggests Gary add lyrics to his catchy background
part, creating  a shared male/female lead with me.  Reisdorff thinks my
innocently titled 'Come Softly' too suggestive and renames it 'Come Softly To
Me'.  We take our name, The Fleetwoods, from our Olympia telephone exchange."
 
     "Already #1 in the Northwest, Come Softly To Me' is climbing nationwide,
and our first tour begins!" Christopher recalls as she takes her story into
early 1959.  "Four days out, in Cleveland, I turn 19, like the other two, and
by the time we arrived in New York for the Dick Clark Show, our first recording
is #1 in the nation!"
 
     The parade of hits continued in the spring with "Graduation's Here", also
revived on the new album, and "Mr. Blue", which topped the national charts just
as "Come Softly To Me" had done.  "Yet," says Christopher, "all of this--Gold
Records, a string of hit singles, and a brief marriage at age 19 to Rick
(Richard The Second)--does not bring me happiness.  Dolphin (renamed Dolton) is
bought by Liberty Records.  They fly us to Hollywood to record.  I leave the
broken dream and dashed marriage in Seattle.  'Blues, Go Away' comes out of me
like a cry against the walls of the Hollywood motel room where we Fleetwoods
are staying."
 
     The song, written in a lounge-jazz style inspired by the great American
songbook, shows astounding sophistication for a 19-year-old composer.  "We
record at United-Western Studios, on Sunset Boulevard," Christopher recalls.
"I sing my heartfelt, torchy blues, surrounded by a live orchestra.  Barbara
and Gary sing back-up in an isolation booth but are ultimately dialed out.
'Blues, Go Away' becomes the first Fleetwood solo, track four on our fourth
album, DEEP IN A DREAM.  At Liberty Records, when 'Blues, Go Away' is played,
office doors open and people call out, 'Who is that?'  But it is not released
as a single nor promoted for air play."
 
     "With 'Blues, Go Away'," Christopher continues, "I decide not to allow
other people's names to be put on my songs--and that I'll have my own
publishing company.  In my heart, I decide, if I'm going to continue recording,
I want it to be solo, and preferably for my own label.  Then I have a vision--a
premonition--that if I go solo, I will go straight to the top--and not survive.
For even as one of three at the top, it has been devastatingly lonely.  What I
really need is one good man who shares my values and whose love I can return."
 
     At least on one level, Gretchen Christopher's dream was realized in a
fairly short time, moving her life in a new direction as the Fleetwoods' career
gradually declined.  "Within a year," she elaborates, "I'm introduced to Rich
(Richard The Third), agree to marry him--and happily dedicate myself to
becoming my ideal of the perfect wife and mother.  We grow deeply in love.
Three years later, with our 15-month-old son Christopher (and daughter Kimari
on the way), we move from California to Washington.  I'm totally dedicated to
family, and only with Rich's permission do I commit to doing a few
performances, to benefit worthy causes."
 
     Eventually, however, separation from the artistic life took its inevitable
toll.  "After a decade of my not recognizing some of my innermost needs,"
Christopher recalls, "our marriage is beginning to suffer.  In an attempt to
salvage it and stay on track, I take a course in self-awareness.  I get in
touch with the 'deep-down-under true me'--that creative part that cannot be
denied, must communicate, must create beauty and share it, to survive.  But
Rich, good man though he is, feels the need for something else.  After 14 years of
marriage, we divorce."
 
     Not surprisingly, Gretchen Christopher devotes several songs on the album
to this pivotal time of her life.  The first is a Dionne Warwick-style
pop-rocker called "What Good Is Pride (when you're dyin' inside) whose bridge
briefly and brilliantly shifts into 6/8 time.  "I know they mean well," she
sings, "but I wonder yet  If they loved and lost, could they quickly forget?"
The reflective minor-key ballad "Standing At My Window" is a stream of
consciousness that tracks her journey from a life that's "just a play-act"
through the hard work of "tearing through my vanity", culminating in the discovery
of "the real one who is me."
 
     The mood for the rest of the story is joyously summarized in another brisk
jazz-flavored waltz called "Everything Good In My Life (is coming to me)".
"Suddenly," Christopher explains in her notes, "my whole new life is ahead of
me, as a now-single mother with the desire but not the certainty of making my
living exclusively in the arts.  The second verse represents the Nineties.  My
children grown, I've just returned from performing in Europe and resume
teaching dance at The Evergreen State College, for Leisure Education (the
program formed, in part, around my Jazz Dance classes, over 20 years before)."
 
     The happy ending begins with an interview request from an Olympia
newspaper reporter.  "The resulting photos and feature story more than fill the
front page of the 'Living' section," Christopher remembers, "and a subscriber
sends the article to her son in California.  It's Richard, The First--my first
love from high school!  We've not seen each other for almost 40 years."
 
     "After three months of letters and phone calls," she continues, "we
finally meet.  He has held me in his heart since we were teenagers, dreaming
that, if ever we met again, I would still be in love with him.  When I am not,
he is devastated, ready to say goodbye.  'But why must it be all or nothing?' I
ask.  To his credit, he hangs in there and, after three years of dating long
distance, Vos proposes the 'M' word.  I'm stunned."
 
     Explaining that she was happy with her life as it was, Gretchen
Christopher issued the ultimate challenge.  "If you're really serious about
this," she told him, "I suggest you move nearer Olympia, so we can see each
other as much as I see my other friends."
 
     "Vos takes the risk and moves from California to Washington," she reports
happily.  "I'm growing to know and appreciate this man with whom I first fell
in love when we were teenagers;  yet who has grown so much more."
 
     With this unexpected development, a new chapter in Gretchen Christopher's
life has clearly begun, and she marks it with one of the album's most
beautifully contemplative offerings, "What Time Is It".  "What time is it?" she
asks.  "Is it time to love?  I've waited so long!"  Like "Everything Good In My
Life", this song touches on issues far more universal than one person's
situation or relationship.
 
     "Four years together," Christopher continues, "and we celebrate my leap
year birthday with a marvelous "Sweet 16" party hosted by my daughter and
son-in-law.  There's music all evening, at the end of which I share some of my
songs, including lyrics I've just written."  The new song, "Sweet 16", brings
the album to a gently swinging and inspiring close.  "No more 'Mr. Blue',
you've 'Come Softly To Me' " she sings, "so our first love could grow even
more."
 
     Consisting of new recordings made in Los Angeles, Dallas, Seattle, and
at Pacific Studios in Tacoma where it was mastered, GRETCHEN'S SWEET 16
(Suite 16) can be sampled and ordered at her website,
----------------------------------------
                  Build Your Fleetwoods Collection On Bop Street
     If this month's article has inspired you to build up your Fleetwoods
collection, Bop Street Records in Seattle's Ballard district is the place to
go.  According to proprietor Dave Vorhies, the store now has an impressive
stock of original Dolton albums from the group's heyday as well as a few 45RPM
singles.
 
Bop Street Records
5219 Ballard Avenue Northwest.
Phone: (206) 297-2232.
E-mail: dave_vorhees@yahoo.com.
 
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                    ON THE NEWSSTAND: HERITAGE MUSIC REVIEW
     The print edition of HERITAGE MUSIC REVIEW is available by mail for $15
per year and on sale at the following Seattle newsstands and music venues:
 
DOWNTOWN:
Read-all-about-it: First and Pike, Pike Place Market.
 
FREMONT:
American Music  4450 Fremont Avenue North.
Dusty Strings Music: 3406 Fremont Avenue North.
Market Time Foods: 4416 Fremont Avenue North
 
PIONEER SQUARE:
New Orleans Creole Restaurant: 114 First Avenue South.
Elliott Bay Book Company: 101 South Main Street.
Emerald City Guitars: 83 South Washington Street.
 
    For a free sample copy of the print edition, just reply to this message or,
if this issue was forwarded to you,  send your mailing address to
subscribe@heritagemusicreview.com.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
    Forwarding of this Electronic Edition is strongly encouraged. If you wish
to subscribe or unsubscribe, simply send your request to editor Doug Bright:
subscribe@heritagemusicreview.com.
 
----------------------------------------

Return to top of page

 
View this delightful, moving performance of 6 year old Connie.   http://www.glumbert.com/media/connie

Order autographed SWEET SIXTEEN! (SUITE 16) CD here 

Order autographed "Mr. BLUE" CD here!

 

Return to top of page

Treble clef image courtesy of Lisabeth's Music Images at  http://www.gymell.com/doc/musicimages.shtml

 

free html hit counters

Free Web Statistics